When To Rehelmet?

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: How long should you hold onto that old helmet before you let it go?

My assignment this week was to write an honest blog piece about when it is the right time to ditch your helmet and re-up for a new one. There are some obvious answers and then there are some that seem not so much.

Before I started working on this post I had to bicycle over to the store to get some more apple juice. The ride took me onto a bridge over an estuary. I walk the bike over that bridge because I like the water. I find it enjoyable to stroll the bridge’s length and watch the world go by. There was a seagull flying slowly about 30 feet over the drink: it tilted one wing toward the water and the other straight up into the sky. In that moment she had dumped the air from her wings, lost most of her air speed, did one cartwheel and pitched straight down toward the water head first. in the descent she pulled her wings in about two thirds. When she was only a few feet off of the water she snapped her wings out full in a braking and gliding maneuver and then bobbed her head underwater to grab a small redish fish. With but two big flaps of her wings she avoided crashing into the drink and was back up in the air again. Its an astonishing feat of skill and grace to witness. There was a short stuttering motion as she flew off: she had just slid the small fish down her gullet. Done and done, the fish never knew what hit it.

One of the campfire rituals with riders is the exchange of harrowing accident or near accident stories. These stories run the gamut from hitting the headlight frozen deer on the back country road to being struck by some  #%@ing texting teen making a left turn. Most of the time riders say stuff like “he/it came out of nowhere.” These accidents happen so quickly and there is often no time to react. We’re not the bird – we’re the fish. If they were very lucky there were no, or minimal, injuries and the gear took the brunt of it. You may not need to get rid of your jacket or riding pants but if your helmet had an accident impact it has to go. No no – it has to go. The combination of stress fractures in the shell combined with compression of the inner EPS liner foam render the helmet useless for anything other than a planter* or a bird house. The liner is incapable of protecting you from impact injury after it has suffered one impact. There is a nice video shot at the Nolan factory that shows the helmet testing procedure and the most interesting part for me was the moment when they restruck a helmet and looked at the dent in the surface. After one impact the helmet loses its ability to adequately distribute the force of the blow over the surface of the helmet. It really brought home the idea that you cannot reuse your helmet after you have had an accident with it. Even a small impact is enough. Not a ding like dropping it off of the cocktail table or the seat of your bike but certainly when you have a get-off and strike your helmet. How small a get-off? Good lord man just get a new helmet! How much is your brain worth? Replacing your helmet after an accident is a pretty clear choice for most riders but the rest of it is not so clear.

You can find lots of advice from people who want to sell you a helmet (yeah – like us)  about when a helmet ages out. It becomes difficult to get the straight dope. The most widely accepted idea is that you replace your motorcycle helmet every 5 years. Why? Well uh… because it wears out, that’s why. Well, what wears out? The uhhh, EPS liner foam interacts with your sweat and that diminishes it structural reliability – yeah, that’s the ticket. Really? Can’t they make a liner that doesn’t interact with your body oils or sweat? Well, yes, in fact the whole thing is a canard. The liner isn’t affected by your sweat or scalp oils. Your helmet may stink but the EPS liner isn’t necessarily diminished.

Many of the helmet manufacturers will talk about liner degradation from body oils or sweat but this information is the subject of some serious question. There is a nice article by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute and among other things it addresses this issue. The bicycle helmet liner is made of the same EPS foam material that is used in motorcycle helmets.

Can your EPS liner be diminished by solvents or cleaning agents. Yes, it appears so. If five years isn’t the standard for degradation what is? There is no hard and fast rule here. Other sources are as generous as eight years. If you notice that your helmet seems to fit more loosely on your head than it used to it is more likely due to abrasion of the liner and/or reduction of the liner by cleaning agents and not because your head is shrinking. In either case its time for a new helmet.

Your helmet’s integrity is indeed reduced by the ultraviolet rays of sunlight. The helmet is plastic and plastic does not play well with UV.  How long does it take to render your helmet unsafe? It depends upon the materials as some of the composites resist UVA and UVB better than others. What are those composites? I do not have a danged clue. I have read that many manufacturers are putting UV inhibitors into their shell plastics to slow this decay. This reinforces the notion that your helmet has a use-by date regardless of its impact history.

Alright let’s sling some product.

Helmet quality gets better every year and the prices are remarkably low for a helmet that offers more than reasonable protection for your brain case. You can get a perfectly nice Scorpion EXO-400 for a mere $110.00. I like that helmet. Too much for you? You can get an HJC-5N Open Face (solid) for an astonishing $68.00.  A Bell Arrow (either solid or graphic) for one Benjamin. How about a an HJC CL-16 (solid), a workhorse of a helmet, for only $117.00. I don’t often go into sales pitch mode but the point I am truly trying to make here is that you do not have to spend a lot of money to be allowed the opportunity to convert your old helmet into a bird house.  Why risk a concussion or more serious damage for a mere hundred dollars?

Step up another hundred bucks or so and you can get higher quality shells, more comfortable wicking liners, more durable face shields or in some even drop down sun visors.

Look into the Shark S700 (solid) for $210.00 or the Nolan N-90 N-Comm (solid) for $220.00. They are both very good helmets. Lots of choices – one brain to protect.

I recently demo’d a Scorpion EXO-900 Transformer [ed. that review will be posted soon] helmet because after my last eye exam, came the mandate that I wear glasses when I drive/ride. Modular helmets have now become more interesting to me. I liked that helmet. It has an amazing assortment of bells and whistles and it is CE rated. It fit my head perfectly too. Switching to a modular for my next purchase is definitely in the cards. It makes the whole eyeglass thing so much easier.

For years I rode with Shoei helmets. I wore out two RF200′s and had no complaints about either those helmets or any later Shoei head buckets I wore. I respect the Shoei name because they held me in good stead for many years.  Shoei has my attention once again because of their modular Neotec and also their full-face GT Air. When its time for me to go helmet shopping again they are high on my list.

I currently ride with an Arai RX-Q. The RX-Q is a replacement for my then five year old Arai Corsair. I followed the five year rule. I might not have had to but I figured I needed to do what I could to protect what few brain cells I have left.

Helmet integrity is reduced by an impact, by ultraviolet radiation and by abrasion of the interior liner and/or the liner’s contact with some solvents or cleaning agents. The decision to replace your helmet is, so to speak, a no-brainer. The decision to replace due to insults other than impact are a bit less straightforward. I would err on the side of caution. Take a gander at our helmet offerings and take another look at your helmet. Yeah, sure you can replace your helmet because you want something matching your gas tank color and we’d be tickled sideways to have your money but more importantly if your helmet is compromised surrender it to the finches or the orchids and get a new one.

* There are some wild and wondrous planters made from old motorcycle helmets (they will lend your garden something of the je ne sais quoi magic of a hubcap farm) and a quick tour of the interwebz will provide many ideas for other substantial and neighbor confounding things to do with your old helmet. Don’t throw it away, re-appropriate it. ‘No Madge – I’m re-appropriating it.’

 

Gerde Applethwaite

 

Eyeglass Update

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: I took a couple of helmets with me to the optician and wound up with conventional frames anyway.

This is just a quick note about my visit to the Costco opticians. They were great and really friendly. They didn’t giggle when I came in with the helmets, instead the woman who helped me was nonchalant and said that they get motorcyclists in there every once in awhile and they often bring helmets with them. Bring your helmet/s.

Bottom line for me is that I wound up with a rather conventional frame. I looked at the prices and I went with something inexpensive and traditional in shape because I know I am going to be rough on these frames and I’ll be back soon enough for a replacement. Why replace an expensive frame just to bang it up again? My approach to the selection process is utilitarian and not fashion oriented. Mind you, its not that I am not tempted by a vintage pair of rhinestone encrusted Auntie Mame sunglasses but that’s for the Playa and its just not the done thing under one’s helmet.

How do they fit into my helmets? I took my Arai RX-Q and I grabbed a Scorpion EXO-900 modular helmet too. The Modular is clearly easier to work with when it comes to getting glasses off and on. No question.

I have been wearing straight templed Smith sunglasses with my Arai RX-Q for some time but since I got myself set up with the Pinlock shields on the Arai RX-Q I haven’t worn sunglasses. The eyeglasses fit in the helmet more awkwardly than the sunglasses did because the ear end of the temple arm is curved (like a regular pair of glasses.) Its a snug fit and bending the glasses up and into that area between my head, my hair and the thick foam padding is a bit of a challenge.

On the other hand the modular helmet makes this task much easier. On the Scorpion EXO-900 I press the red button on the chin bar, flip up the front piece and I am now afforded much more room to wrangle the glasses onto my head. Its true what the eyeglass wearers say about flip-ups. This still mandates the dance of wedging the frame in beside the padding and my head but it is made all so much easier with the additional room afforded by the flip-up. I have never worn a modular helmet before but I could get used to this pretty quickly. I cannot envision riding with the modular unit in the open position but the combination of being able to pop it open when stopped and then quickly dealing with the glasses or talking to toll takers and gas station attendants makes a flip-up tempting. On the other hand if I wanted to ride with the helmet in open-face style I could because Scorpion has designed the EXO-900 Transformer helmet so that the entire modular front end can be removed (while it retains its CE rating.) My next post will be a rider’s review of the Scorpion EXO-900 Transformer.

There is a Shark modular helmet, the Evoline 3 ST, I want to look into because it too is rated CE 22.05. More about this helmet in the not too far distant future.

Get on out there.

Gerde Applethwaite

Traversing The Molecular Armor Maze

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: When buying armor purchase the CE – En1621-(1 and 2), level 2 gear and you will get the highest level of protection currently available.

The main goal in doing the research for this blogicle was to sort through the data and info about armor in order to find the best (most impact resistant) padding to insert into my new motorcycle jacket. I didn’t look into the separate, strap-on, back pad units that you see racers or dirt bikers running (like the Knox or Forcefield types) – I wanted armor to swap into the pouches of my jacket. I am not going off road – at least not intentionally. It gets a bit confusing but I hope to sort it out here and now.

My objective is pretty straightforward – I need to be as visible as possible to distracted drivers by wearing hi-viz clothing and I also want to protect myself by wearing good impact and abrasion resistant toggery. ATGATT. I am pretty well covered with a hi-viz Arai RX-Q helmet and a hi-viz textile jacket. The next thing is to dial in the armor.

The armor that comes with nearly all jackets is not the most highly rated you can get. The cost is kept down this way and if you’re really interested you can swap in better kit. In relative terms this replacement armor is not all that expensive. Compared to a hospital visit the armor is ridiculously cheap. This means pulling out the factory armor (with back armor it is often just a slice of place-holding foam with some holes in it) and replacing it with something designed to fit the pocket in your gear. This can be limiting because your pockets may not reasonably fit your replacement armor: it boils down to either doing some sewing work to change the pocket or cutting the armor to fit the pocket. The former is the smartest way to go but its also the most work and will of course void your warranty. Online you will find riders who talk about taking a knife to their new high end armor in order to make it fit the existing pocket.  I am reticent to do this. This means, for me, buying a jacket that has pockets designed to fit the form factor of the armor I choose. Now all of a sudden moto gear shopping becomes a matter of firstly finding the armor I want and then finding moto apparel makers that make clothing designed to fit that armor. This is a little backwards from the manner in which most of us shop for motorcycle clothing but it guarantees that I won’t be sitting at the kitchen table with a Sharpie and an electric carving knife.

The Europeans generally do the consumer protection stuff substantially better than do their stateside counterparts. They have come up with a European Union standard for motorcycle armor called CE: EN 1261-1,2 etc. The CE standard is used worldwide now to judge armor’s ability to withstand impact. Be advised though that there are various levels of CE rated armor and just because some guy on the interwebz tells you that some manufacturer’s gear is “CE rated” doesn’t mean that it is the most highly rated. “CE” is now used as part of the product hype and you should look a little deeper to find out what actual CE rating the gear you’re interested in actually conforms to.  Bear with me, I will try to make it as un-boring as possible.

In their labs the Euro tech gremlins (The EU fonctionnaires hire independent labs to do their testing) place the armor to be tested upon a round dome for hip, knee shoulder and elbow armor and upon a sort of rounded prism for back armor*. This anvil is loaded with sensors that detect the impact and the results are rated in Kilonewtons – earlier measurements were in Joules/metre (1 newton = .001KN or 1 Joule/metre.)  The armor is whacked with a hammerlike device and the results of the impact are measured. With this technology all motorcycle armor can be rated by its ability to withstand the transmission of the impact force from the impact hammer side to the anvil/sensor side. This is precisely what you want to know when you are out shopping for good armor. You are the anvil – asphalt be the hammer.

The human rib cage can withstand 4 kilo-newtons of force before ribs start to break. The only back armor that comes anywhere close to that is the stuff that passes the CE-EN1621-2, Level 2 test. That’s the stuff I want. For an additional $15 or $20 over the cost of the CE Level 1 armor why would you bother with Level 1?

CE has two broad categories for armor: the back armor is in one group and the hip, shoulder, knee and elbow are in the other. The testing scheme is a bit different and the expectations are different. Teh back armor regime is called CE-EN1621-2 (2003) and all of the other armor is categorized under CE-EN1621-1 (1997) [note too: there is a new provisional standard as of 2011, with 2 levels within that standard.]  We’re not done yet. As armor improved the CE added Levels to (now) both categories. There are Level 1 and Level 2 to tack onto the aforementioned number sets. The strongest armor in both groups is Level 2. Its not easy to get a Level 2 and one way that you get there is with the so-called molecular armor. From wikipedia comes this:

Level 1 protectors: The average peak force recorded below the anvil in the tests shall be below 18 kN, and no single value shall exceed 24 kN.

Level 2 protectors: The average peak force recorded below the anvil in the tests shall be below 9 kN, and no single value shall exceed 12 kN.”

Again, let me state for the purposes of clarity that the EN-1621-1 (1997) (2011) rating is for hip, knee, shoulder and elbow armor and the EN-1621-2(2003) rating is only for back armor. Then on top of that there are the 2 levels applied to both the 2003 and the 2011 standards. The higher the level the greater the protection. Some folks on the interwebz seem confused by this. If you want the strongest gear you need to look not only for 2011 provisional standard for the joint gear and the 2003 standard for the back gear BUT ALSO the level 2 rated stuff as well.

D3O and Sas-Tec are the primary manufacturers of molecular (viscoelastic) armor and they are not owned by any of the gear makers. D3O is designed and made in the UK and the Sas-Tec stuff is made in Germany. Molecular armor works in an intriguing way** and the cornstarch and water impact demos on youtube are worth a look. The armor is soft and pliable to the touch (making it more comfortable to ride with than hard puck type armor) but upon impact it hardens briefly and then returns to its original state. This property distributes and reduces the force of the impact dramatically. Old style hard armor has now been bested by this armor – but only when you go for the Level 2 viscoelastic armor.

Which is better the D3O or the Sas-Tec? Sas-Tec has a more competently laid out and informative website than do the folks at D3O. It was easier to get concrete information from Sas-Tec. I cannot clearly say at this point which one has the better high end armor than the other and my ultimate choice was also made by other factors, like different features on the jacket that I opted for.  At one time D3O was the only kid on the block. When Sas-Tec came along it is alleged that German miltiary bomb defusers used it on the soles of their shoes. The D3O is now being used as joint padding in some of the British miltary’s combat uniforms. As innovations continued apace. D3O came out with a generation of stronger armor and then another. D3O armor now comes in T5 (lightweight, lower protection), T6 (with a hard plastic shield on one side to help limit penetrations) and Xergo (thicker, Level 2 kit that gets you nearer to that 4 KN goal) flavors – each offering a bit more protection. Sas-Tec certainly has leading design innovation as well.

Sas-Tec’s high end joint armor is labeled Prestige SC-1/42 and when I squint at their chart (note: their charts are much more readable than are D3O’s) they indicate that the armor transmits a mere 6 KN to the body. Their SC and SK level 2 back armor rings in at about the same: 6 KN.

At this point I can tell you this. If you buy armor that is rated to CE-EN1621- 1 and 2, Level 2 you will be getting the highest rated armor currently available. The Scorpion Commander 2 jacket that I recently tested has Level 1 Sas-Tec armor in it when you buy it. The Firstgear Kilimanjaro jacket that I just tested comes stock with Level 1 D3O armor. With either of these jackets if you wanted the top end armor you would be able to swap out the scorpion with Sas-Tec Level 2 and the Firstgear with D3O Level 2 – they will swap straight out. Of course you cannot do a straight swap for the Sas-tec in a jacket that was designed for D3O and vice versa. You can also upgrade your old jacket to Molecular but it will require some time on the blogowebz to figure out the fitting constraints. You must also factor in your willingness to go at your older jacket with a scissors, needle and thread or alternatively your new armor with the electric turkey carver.

Here’s what I did: I researched jackets within my budget that had either D3O or Sas-Tec armor and then, after some waffling between the Firstgear Kilimanjaro (D3O) and the Scorpion Commander 2 (Sas-Tec), I popped for the Kilimanjaro. I then bought the D3O Viper Stealth Pro back armor (the “Pro” series is level 2 rated). Next up I will be ordering the D3O Xergo hip, knee shoulder and elbow inserts and they will all swap into my Firstgear clothing. Whoop-La, done and done.

I ordered my back armor insert from Klim because they actually had it in stock. Klim is one of the maker’s of gear that lays D3O armor into their motorcycle clothing and it is not surprising that they do so. D3O, in its its early day was often seen on the ski slopes and boarding half-pipes. Klim is a big maker of snow wear and Klim’s adoption of D3O into their motorcycle clothing was a natural one. Other makers are following as riders demand the best in protection. Demand the best in protection.

—–

* It is important to note that during my poking around on the webz I found documentation and commentary to indicate that the relative value of back armor to prevent or substantially reduce the possibility of spinal injury is, surprisingly, quite low. The majority of the damage to the spinal column is initiated by severe torquing of the head and neck and/or the hip. Back armor aids more in limiting injury to the ribs and also helps in both lowering bruising and organ damage. It is not as substantial a contributor to the prevention of spinal injury as most folks think.  [NB.: Cambridge Standard For motorcyclists Clothing, Roderick Woods.]

** I don’t want to make this post any more unwieldy than it already is so if you are interested in learning more about the unique property of the molecular armor take a look at wikipedia’s entry for “dilatant.”

Gerde Applethwaite

Vested Interest

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: Hi-viz vests are relatively inexpensive and increase your visibility when worn over your lo-viz jacket.

What do construction workers and reasonably smart motorcyclists have in common? Construction workers wear helmets to help protect them if and when something lands on their heads. Motorcyclists wear helmets to help protect them when they land on their heads. Construction workers wear bright hi-viz vests with reflective tape on them so that they can be readily seen on site and it helps avoid accidents. Reasonably smart motorcyclists wear hi-viz apparel, like vests, to be seen on the road and it helps avoid being struck by idiots on cell phones or idiots who might otherwise make left turns into them or idiots who are backing out of driveways or….

I have a few motorcycle jackets that are not hi-viz, indeed for the most part they are quite lo-viz. Pop on a hi-viz vest like the Fieldsheer, Fly Racing or Icon vests we offer and your old jackets are now brighter and more readily readable on the road. If you are not ready to buy a new hi-viz jacket you can get vastly improved visibility with a hi-viz vest at a substantially reduced cost. You need to be visible from your 6; if you are riding with a pillion passenger who is not wearing a hi-viz jacket put a hi-viz vest on them to make you both more visible to approaching traffic.

I recently bought a riding suit that didn’t have the level of visibility that I wanted so I popped for a hi-viz vest to wear with the suit. It works a treat. I wish that more hi-viz options were available but until they are the hi-viz vest just might be the thing to make it right.

The U.S. Military has sussed the value of conspicuity on their bases. They require that all folks on base who are riding a motorcycle or scooter where an approved Mil. Spec. hi-viz vest. They do this because they can….and because they do not want or need to have their people laid up in hospital. Its inconvenient. On the other side of the fence in civilian land no one can make you wear a hi-viz vest when you ride. we can only plead with you and show you the wisdom and sanity of the notion.

Broadly speaking hi-viz vests come in two flavors: you’ve got yer orange vest and you got yer  bright lime yellow/chartreusey vest. Either vest will do the trick but I have opted for the yellow/green vest because I believe it can be seen better at night than the orange.

As far as I am concerned the more reflective tape on the vest and the jacket and the pants the happier I am. The military spec. includes requirements for a certain size and intensity of reflectivity of the reflective tape. They do this to ensure that the reflective component isn’t merely stuck on as a sort of fashion afterthought. They want the tape to be there to aid in your visibility. Some of the non-Mil Spec. vests are better than others about this.

Gerde Applethwaite

 

 

Firstgear Kilmanjaro V. Scorpion Commander 2: Side By Side Comparison

by Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: The Firstgear Kilmanjaro and the Scorpion Commander 2 jackets are comparable in so many ways but they vary enough that you will find one with features you prefer.

Hi-viz motorcycle clothing is the only flavor that interests me right now – at least for my own personal use. I don’t expect that I will ever buy anything other than hi-viz moto apparel and I have written about this previously. If you want to know more take a look at my previous posts but on the off chance that you are not inclined or especially motivated in that direction let me briefly reaffirm my Conspicuity Mantra. It is as follows (or at least resembles the following): I want to be as bright and visible out on the highways and bi-ways of this great land as a massively outsized, nearly phosphorescent, chartreuse lollipop. I can be no clearer.

I have purchased a new jacket for the current riding season and in the process have taken note of all of the new hi-viz offerings. Among them are two jackets designed roughly within the same price range and for the same market. These are the Firstgear Kilimanjaro and the Scorpion Commander 2 textile touring jackets. I like them both and either one would be a great choice. Because they are so similar in so many ways I decided to take a really close look at both of them. I have them both before me now and while I have spent a fair amount of time reading up on them online no comparison can be adequate unless you have them in meatspace.  Looks aren’t all that important here but I have to note that the Scorpion jacket just has more styley style than the Firstgear. There are other considerations, in fact there are many. I will endeavor to be succinct.

Price: The Firstgear is about $60 less than the Scorpion. (the Scorpion is also slightly more costy for the uber large and/or tall sizes.)

Material: The Kilmanjaro is made of Nylon and the Commander 2 is of the polyester persuasion. Nylon is noted to be a stronger more durable material than polyester but polyester does not absorb and hold water the way that nylon does. This means that once your nylon jacket gets wet the longer it will stay wet. A wet jacket will draw body heat and make you colder. Nylon material will pill-up when frayed, the poly will not. Polyester absorbs and holds odors more so than nylon. They are both 600 denier across the main body panels.

Color: They Both share a bright hi-viz color (virtually identical in color) and both are equally visible from a distance. My lollipop visibility requirements are more than amply met by both. They are both a combination of black and hi-hiz and have sufficient hi-viz in front and back to make them effective. The Scorpion though has mostly black on the side panels below the armpit and this makes the jacket less visible to traffic from the side — a definite deciding factor for me.

Reflectivity: I don’t get this: both jackets are woefully lacking in reflectivity stripes. Why? If you are concerned enough about safety and visibility to buy the hi-viz option wouldn’t you want a bunch of 2” wide, really bright, reflective tape on your jacket as well? I say yes – both Scorpion and Firstgear disagree. Scorpion is woefully out of tune here and Firstgear isn’t much better. The Commander 2 reflectivity patches are sprayed on and more than half hidden under the top front pocket closures – although, even the Commander’s sprayed on the material is substantially brighter than the Kilimanjaro’s. The back and the arm bands aren’t too much better: Scorpion has sprayed on the reflective stuff in a 3/8” wide stripe at the shoulder (the junction between the black shoulder material and the hi-viz) and this thin band wraps around to the arm bands. Firstgear utilizes a reflectively weak black tape reflective sewn in. It glows anemically under light in the dark but during the day it blends fashionably with the black segments of the jacket. Firstgear seem to want to hide their reflectivity panels and blend them into the black bits. Scorpion seems ashamed that they had to put them in at all and hide them under a pocket flap.  Is this a style choice? Dunno why, as far as I am concerned the makers should flaunt their reflectivity touches not hide them.

Armor: The Commander 2 is set up with Level 1 Sas-Tec armor in the hips, knees, elbows and shoulders while the Kilimanjaro sports D3O. [See my post about armor “Traversing the Molecular Armor Maze” for more detailed information about armor.] They are ostensibly comparable and their armor is better than you will find in many jackets. Having said that Its worth noting that I swapped out the D3O (level 1) for the Viper Stealth Pro D3O (level 2) and the Xergo D3O (level 2) in the Kilimanjaro. I want the maximum protection available.

Cinching and Closures: Both jackets have adequate cinching belts wit TPR (Velcro-like) closures. They pull up just fine when you need to adjust the jacket. The Firstgear Kilimanjaro has a reputation for being Tent-like but I tested a medium in both jackets and they fit about the same. No excessive room in either.  I could wear a t-shirt and a fleece hoodie under each but not too much more.

The main zipper in both is the standard sturdy YKK. Kilimanjaro has one snap at the bottom and the hidden snaps all the way up. The Commander 2 has a 2 button snap on the bottom and nifty magnetic closures the rest of the way up. The magnetic closures work really well and they make opening and closing the front flap with cold and/or gloved hands really easy. The Kilimanjaro has a water seal flap across the front zipper and that gives you an extra water barrier. The Commander 2 has but one flap. On the inboard side of the zipper though the Commander 2 has an extra wall of flaps. It is a different approach to the same problem and I suspect that they are both equally as effective.

Fit and Feel: When you get them adjusted up for your body and riding position they both feel fine. They both have rubber coated buttons on the bottom to prevent damage to your gas tank when leaning forward. The Scorpion has a nice little stretch accordion panel above the elbow to make arm flexibility easier.

Pockets: I am not a big fan of lots of pockets on jackets because its too tempting to put stuff in there. If you land on your phone in a get-off it can bruise your ribs upon impact (or worse) to say nothing of destroying your phone. The scorpion has 4 big pockets on the outside front, the Firstgear has 2. Neither is lacking in pockets but the whole design of the Scorpion is a little sexier than the Firstgear. Both Manufacturers state that their pockets are waterproof.

I do like the reverse kangaroo pouch on the back of the Commander 2 and wish the Kili had one  too. these big pockets are really handy for storing your liners when you are riding on a warm day. They are also handy for storing your gloves when you get off the bike.

Waterproofing/Resistance: The Kilimanjaro has its waterproofing applied to the backside of its outer shell while the Commander 2 has a separate zip-in waterproofing liner. The Commander 2 has 2 liners and the Kilimanjaro has one. There is some discussion online about which is better – the separate waterproofing liner or the waterproof backing. One suit manufacturer dropped its separate water lining in favor of the bonded waterproofing. I cannot testify to the worthiness or the lack thereof of either. I haven’t given either jacket a water test.

Zippers: YKK all around. The Commander is easy to get in and out of but the Firstgear takes a bit of work to wriggle out of the sleeve. The Scorpion has zippers at the cuff while the Kilimanjaro  an accordion pleat. They both Have TPR cinching at the cuff. I prefer the Commander’s cuff setup.

Venting:  The Kilimanjaro circulates more air through the body because its vents are just longer.  They have 4 long vents on the front whereas the the Commmander has 4 short 4” vents. In hot weather you can shove a lot more air through the Kilimanjaro. In the front the Kilimanjaro features 2 – 10” vents running vertically along the chest and also 2 – 6” horizontal vents at the shoulder. that’s plenty of breathing room. On the back of the jacket its the same story; The Commander has 2- 4” vents whereas the Kilmanjaro has a long vent flap with a zipper that extends clear across the shoulder. One more thing: the Kilimanjaro has flaps covering all of the vents which is helpful in keeping out the driving rain and also in keeping the bugs from fouling your zippers.

Cuff Sealing: As stated I like the way the Commander handles the cuff sealing thing. The zippered cuff makes it easy to get in there and unsnap the liners and it opens up the jacket for easy exit. The Scorpion also has this nice fillip: the liner ends in a loop at the end of the sleeve so that you can rest the loop like a stirrup between your thumb and forefinger. This means it will stay down on your wrist when you put your gloves on and lean forward. Nice. I used to use a cutout pair of crew socks to do pretty much the same thing

Neck Seal: The neck closure on the Commander is Velcro-like and its an easy close with a gloved hand. You can also wrap the Velcro’y (TPR) tongue around to the inside to get it out of your way when you are riding with the zipper partially open. The neck closer on the Kilimanjaro is a button snap type with an adjustable housing for different neck sizes. It is fidgety to close with a gloved hand.

Thermal Liner: The Commander 2 has two liners as mentioned above. The inner liner is a thermal that seems about as thick as the Kilimanjaro. There is little difference to report but for the fact that the Commander’s liner is approx. 6” shorter than the Kilimanjaro’s. The Firstgear liner extends to near the bottom of the jacket while the Scorpion’s only goes as far as the zipper. This makes zippering your pants to the jacket a bit easier in the Scorpion but when riding without pants zipped to the jacket I would rather have the extra length in the thermal liner that the Firstgear affords.

All in all I think you will be fine with either jacket. I decided to go for the Firstgear Kilimanjaro because: it is nylon, It is $60 less and I really like the built in rain hood in the collar. The jackets are that close in most details that it becomes a coin toss. Just to give you an idea – I almost went with the Scorpion because it has brighter reflective material on it than the Firstgear and because I like the Commander’s Cuff seal system better.  I think the thing that really pushed me over was that the Kilimanjaro had more hi-viz material on it side panels. I think it just comes down to a personal choice between 2 excellent jackets. For the price these motorcycle jackets really come packed with lots of features you used to see only on the highest end gear.

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Gerde Applethwaite

Joe Rocket Survivor Suit Review

By Gerde Applethwaite

There was a time when I used to regularly commute to work on a motorcycle. I had an old Honda 305 Scrambler that I now really wish I hadn’t sold.  A friend loaned me a surplus Air Force flight suit to wear. It was actually nice and comfy although not at all waterproof. The suit was a sort of shiny/dull satin bronze looking thing that made me look like a space alien version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. It was difficult to get in and out of and required (after doffing footwear) a series of ritual convulsive writhings on the floor. I took that as part of the morning regimen on a workday and, yes, getting the suit off at work was a bit attention-getting and the subject of a series of predictable jokes.

My budget does not extend to the world of the ‘Stitch. I looked at the Tourmaster Centurion offering and rejected it right away because they had no hi-viz color scheme. If you are not interested in hi-viz you should look at the Centurion.too. This season Joe Rocket came out with a new version of their Survivor Suit with (altogether too little – IMO) hi-viz accent panels. I ordered it up nonetheless. Herein my first impressions of the Joe Rocket Survivor Suit.

Firstly, let me briefly spew yet another version of my ongoing complaint about manufacturers and their tardy and hesitant adoption of hi-viz.  I am surprised that it is taking so long for all manufacturers to readily and fully embrace the hi-viz color option. Joe Rocket did so (partially) with this suit and for that I praise them but this suit has hi-viz  panels sort of thrown on as an afterthought. Manufacturers please take note: The purpose of hi-viz color and the Scotchlite type reflective panels is not that of a fashion design choice but a safety feature whose object is to alert the zombies on cell phones (for one) that I am here and would very much not like to be hit by you and your your 3000 pound steel cage. Joe Rocket has taken their earlier black suit and added the hi-viz panels onto the sides below the armpit and onto the shoulders. There is nothing on the back panel or the chest panel by way of hi-viz but they they did put in some really dandy reflective strips along both sides of the back, running vertically. Nicely done. This effectively means that you have a reasonably decent chance of being seen from behind by car headlights but during the day there is no hi-viz color back there and very little to the front  that will alert drivers.  Oh, there is also is a little patch over each knee. While these panels are helpful they are not nearly enough. As a rider you need to be seen fore and aft and side to side and this suit does not do enough to accommodate that. Alas. More Hi-viz and more Scotchlite please.

Materials and durability:  The main suit fabric is constructed from something that Joe rocket calls RockTex 600 and they have it trademarked. They also indicate that RockTex is waterproof. Is it nylon? Is it polyester? Is it 600 denier? I assume the “600” means 600 denier but i’m not sure. They have a treated canvas material on the inner part of the lower leg to help prevent exhaust systems from from melting your new suit. There is an accordion stretch panel on the lower back that makes that forward lean non-binding.

Getting in and out……..zipppppers:  The Survivor Suit has a long diagonal zipper that runs from one shoulder to the opposite hip. There are also long leg zippers that run up to mid-thigh. This is easily sufficient to allow you to get in and out of the suit while seated (no unseemly rolling around on the floor.)   The zippers are sturdy YKK zips and are plenty durable. I like YKK zips: the externally exposed zippers are of the rubber (rubber-like material) coated type. Very nice. The RockTex material extends over the zippers as a flap and serves as another layer of water resistance – that’s pretty standard too. The flaps are locked in place by snaps.

I am not too fond of the sleeve treatment. It is next to impossible to remove your arms from the suit without sucking ½ the thermal liner along with it. The liner is secured with TPR (Velcro-like) and it just pops right off as soon as you pull your arms back. Most other jackets have a loop and snap setup on the cuff that prevents this but not this suit. This suit has a snap and loop setup but its part way up the arm. The cuffs are zippered though and that’s good.

Armor:  I read a report recently while doing the research for my “Traversing the Molecular Armor Maze” post that focused, in part, on back injuries and the effectiveness of back armor for motorcycle riders.  It states that the majority of spinal injuries come from impacts that torque the shoulders, hip and/or neck. The body twists radically under impact and the spine is damaged. He argues that strong back armor while recommended for protection of the ribs and internal organs is not as effective as riders think it is for protecting their spines.  He recommends high level shoulder and hip armor.  This suit has the typical place holder, thin (not CE) foam pad for back armor and you can buy and insert your own armor as you see fit. All of the armor in the suit is “CE” rated, except the back, but like most manufacturers they do not tell you what grade of CE they are using. If you have to ask then you can assume it is level 1. I am a fan of armor and I like either the D3O or the Sas-Tec gear. This is my first Joe Rocket purchase so I have yet to figure out what type of molecular armor I might be able to fit into the suit. Joe Rocket does make an armor upgrade but they do not make a viscoelastic armor for their gear. Nor do they have their armor pockets fitted for D3O or Sas-Tec. I have to research this further: more later when I have this sorted. Shoulder, elbow and knee armor are CE rated so I assume this is level 1 kit. I am only interested in level 2 CE armor and will see if I can fit the D3O Xergo in there. They doubled up the suit material on the shoulders, elbows and knees.

Weather seal….waterproof and/or resistant.  On a ride last year I got to chatting with a woman who was wearing a ‘Stitch suit. I asked her what she thought about it and I discovered that while initially pleased she said she wouldn’t do it again. Her main complaint was that the suit was not waterproof and that for all of the money spent she fully expected it to keep her dry (I didn’t ask her whether or not she Nikwaxed it.)  I would expect the same for that money. The Joe Rocket suit is substantially less expensive than a ‘Stitch and while I would really like it to keep me completely dry I have limited expectations that it will do so. Online I have read a couple of reviews from folks who have ridden in the rain with their Survivor suits and claim complete non-wetness. Amazing. It remains to be seen. My suit has only just arrived and while I might have the neighbor kids turn a garden hose on me I just haven’t found the time. So, a waterproofing review will likely have to wait until our next rain storm. I assume though that I will have to go after the new suit with the Nikwax treatment if I want to make an effort at waterproofing.

I should say on their behalf that Joe Rocket has taped all of the seams and they use the rubber-like coated YKK zippers. The pockets have an inner pocket of some rubbery material and I have every expectation that the pockets are waterproof.

Pockets:  The Survivor Suit has 2 waterproof cargo pockets on the left thigh and one small waterproof chest pocket with a small zipper. The thigh pockets are reasonably easy to get into when you are on the bike.  Phone, wallet, passport and change can go in there. The external pockets have triple closures.  I generally do not put any hard items (cell phones) into my bike wear pockets because I don’t want to land on them. Inboard of the Big Air vent is a chest slash pocket.

Neck seal: The neck seal is comfy around its inner perimeter, with that soft material, mmmm.  I actually like the way that Tourmaster handles the neck closures on their Defender suits more than I like the Survivor set up. Tourmaster has a big flap, a gator, that you can swing out across your neck to block the elements from getting in. This is a great idea and obviates the need for a scarf or a neck-lacava on cool or wet days. With the Survivor suit you will need to do the standard neckerchief thing the way you do with most jackets. The closure is a snap and all the big snaps are rubber coated on the facing side. There is a nice little elastic band, a small loop that the tongue of the collar snap folds into in order to double it over out of your way when you are riding with the jacket at all unzipped which you will do often when you are using the Big Air vent.

Venting: More about the “Big Air” vent: it is the name for Joe Rocket’s proprietary venting system and on this suit. It consists of a zippered mesh panel right underneath the main zipper  in the front of the chest. Zip the main zipper down to your navel and (after you have snapped the weather flaps out of the way [pro-tip: try to do this with suit off if possible] then zip up the mesh panel underneath with the hi-viz colored zipper — you have the thing half done. Unzip the 2 slash vents on the back and Bob’s yer uncle, lots of air flow. The suit is mostly black and on a hot day it is going to absorb a lot of heat. So, this venting scheme is the thing that will give this suit 3-season (in some climes 4-season) service. I cannot comment yet about the suit’s ability to keep you warm in the cold weather because its nice and toasty outside these days.

Warmth and liners:  The liner is removable. It consists of a lightweight satiny quilted material. Don’t ride with the liner in on a warm day if you can help it. If you leave the liner out and zip open that Big ole Big Air vent in front and also zip open the 2 slash vents in the back then you will be pretty comfy despite the fact that the suit is black and absorbs the sun’s heat. The liner isn’t overly thick but it definitely makes thing toasty when you are in and zipped up.

Heat Shield matter on inner leg: The inner, lower leg heat shield is made of a type of canvas that is treated. It will keep you from burning through your RockTex but if you have a scrambler I would check the alignment before you fire up the bike and your pipes get hot.

Cleaning: When it is time to clean your suit just go with the Nikwax system. Clean it with the Nikwax cleaner and then re-waterproof (or water resist – I haven’t done it yet, just got it.

I am pleased with the Joe Rocket Survivor Suit and my quibbles are small ones. I am still more than a little surprised that they can make a suit this nice for this price.

Gerde Applethwaite.

Pinlock Shield Upgrades

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: I put a pinlock shield on my Arai helmet and there is no more fog. It’s worth the money you spend on the upgrade.

The Clever Dutch have given us the Pinlock shield system and its arrival on consumer helmets has been a while coming. Pinlock has yet to be adopted by all helmet makers but as of 2012 both Arai and HJC are incorporating Pinlock as standard on some of their helmet models. It is available on many helmet brands – more every day. I am riding with an Arai RX-Q and I have retrofitted my helmet to Pinlock. What is Pinlock?

 Its a two piece shield system that provides a clear face shield with two nipples on the left and right sides of the shield that yet another shield clips into. The inner shield is smaller and is available in multiple shades. When you want to swap out your internal shield component you just: remove your shield from the helmet, bend the shield a bit flat, pop the old shield out from under the 2 pins and then swap in the new one. Its really easy.

What’s the advantage? Well, there are 3 main features. The first is that the inner shield is rimmed with a silicon bead that traps the air between the two shield components and like a double paned window it provides an air insulation barrier which minimizes the contrasting temperatures betwixt inside and out. This barrier prevents fog from layering up on the inside of your helmet when you breathe because it removes the temperature differential that condensation is so fond of. This reduces or eliminates the possibility of condensation buildup from your breath. Nifty, right?

The second and third points are that the inner shield is smaller and its easier to pack a swap-out replacement of a different shade in say, your tank bag. Finally the inner shields are substantially less expensive than your non-Pinlock type face shields so when you are thinking about adding another shade: dark grey, light grey, amber, yellow, etc. it won’t cost as much.  (Yeah, of course, the standard inner shield that comes with the pinlock when you buy the main shield setup is clear.)

When I bought mine I ordered up the Arai SAI Pinlock shield for my RX-Q and replacement shields in amber and in light grey. I like the light grey on sunny days and I really like the amber on foggy days. I am going to have wear eyeglasses for riding at some point in the not too far distant future and I don’t want to buy prescription sunglasses. So, if I have to ride with glasses then a shaded shield seems like the way to go.  Also, if you wear sunglasses when you ride and your helmet is a tight fit then using a shaded shield eliminates the annoyance of trying to squeeze the sunglass arms down between your cheek and the helmet foam without jabbing your ear. We’ll have to see which works best in the rain but I suspect its going to be the amber. Its just seems to make everything a bit more vivid, clearer. Sure makes the clouds stand out.

Gerde Applethwaite

Dad’s Day Options

My friend Marianne has a dad who rides. He has been riding motorcycles for a long time and he has all of the gear he needs. He doesn’t want a new helmet. He likes his jacket. His boots fit just fine thank you. We gave it some thought and she decided to go for a Bluetooth set. The idea was that when she occasionally rides with him they can talk about where to pull over for coffee and wot not or how beautiful the trees are  or…that her feet itch. When he rides with their mom he can talk about his itchy feet. Hmmm, I somehow just managed to make this sound a little less appealing, didn’t I? Thing is – she’s not sure he’ll like it. His hands signals are fairly well evolved and he always leads so it isn’t hard to figure out what he wants. He will smile politely and it will stay in its box. Then we realized that this thing will give her a chance to say to him stuff like “did you see those cops over by the overpass?” Or maybe she could even say “we’re pulling off at this offramp cuz I have to pee.”  For that and that alone its worth getting him the Bluetooth gear.

Dads who ride invariably need stuff for to make their ride just a little sweeter. It may not be a big ticket item like a new helmet (although if his helmet is more than 5 years old it should be replaced.) How are his face shields? Scratched? Get him a new one. Even better, if his helmet manufacturer makes them try stepping him up to a fog-free pinlock shield and a couple of differently tinted lenses. No fog, sun shade – sweet.

This isn’t really the season for heated gear but a pair of heated gloves is most welcome on a cold morning start or at the end of a long day when the sun has gone down. Keeping your hands warm on a ride can make all the difference between the miles tripping pleasurably by and hand cramps that harsh dad’s buzz completely.

Take a stroll through the accessories pages. You’ll find something there for even the most seasoned dad.

Hand Up

Sarita recently posted about the importance of riding gloves and I couldn’t agree more. The human hand is, per square inch, the most complicated and fragile mechanical part of the human body. It is also our most complex physio-dynamic instrument. I occasionally see folks riding with a helmet and a decent jacket and no gloves. Clearly they do not understand how fragile our hands are and they have given little thought to what their lives would be like if one or both of their hands were wrapped up in a cast for 2 months.

Scooter riders seem to be the worst. There are lots of scooters in my neck of the woods and altogether too many of them are dressed as though they are somehow invulnerable and immune to harm on the road.

Think about all of the stuff that you do every day with your hands and think, for just a moment (I don’t want to scare you) about what your first reaction is if you fall out of a chair. In most falling accidents your first reaction is to put your hands out to brace your impact. Often the first thing to make contact with the ground are your hands, palms down.

The human hand and wrist are fascinating structures. There are 27 bones in the hand. Add to that the maze of muscles and tendons and the hands become a somewhat miraculous structure. I think of it now as I bang away on the keyboard. Then there is the wrist.

On Emedicine they say this about the wrist:
“The wrist is the most complex joint in the body. It is formed by 8
carpal bones grouped in 2 rows with very restricted motion between
them. From radial to ulnar, the proximal row consists of the scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, and pisiform bones. In the same direction, the distal row consists of the trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, and hamate bones. ”

Any skateboarder or roller skater will tell you about the time/s they tried to avoid a full face plant by sticking out their hands. A decent pair of riding gloves for a motorcyclist or a scooter rider seems like the most reasonable of ideas and it is an idea you do not want to have while you are bare handed and in mid-air.

I currently have 3 pairs of motorcycle gloves. They are all different. The pair that I ride with the most are the Firstgear Navigator (gauntlet style) gloves that I picked up not all that long ago. I still like them, they are soft and they are broken in – they fit great. We have all manner of styles and types of gloves for you to choose from. My next pair will be heated gloves for winter riding.

If you do not ride with gloves please take a look at our offerings. We have so many to choose from I feel confident that you will find something to your liking.  If the gloves you currently ride with are wearing out please consider upgrading before you get too far into this riding season.

Gerde Applethwaite

To Pink or Not to Pink: An Unmanifesto

When I lived in So. California I would, upon a warm Sunday morning, see a bunch of folks gathered in the parking lot of a large local motorcycle dealership queuing to go off on a ride together. I think community is a grand idea. More community – less strife. I sadly have, somewhere deep inside my rusting lizard brain, a sort of judgmental anti-fashion fashion mechanism. I am learning to overcome it — really I am. Many of my favorite quotes in life come from either Yogi Berra, Dororthy Parker or Fran Lebowitz. One Lebowitz quote is especially trenchant for this post. She said: “Your right to wear a powder blue polyester leisure suit ends where it meets my eyes.” [Maybe she said mint green – I can't recall.]

At this dealership there were a couple of couples in matching fringed leather jackets. Oh, I have no problem with that — really. I am generally not too enamored of the idea of couples dressing alike but I certainly have more valuable things upon which to focus my attention – do I not? Oh please, do I not? I couldn’t help but notice that my stomach was acting up when I saw not one but two women who were wearing fringed leather jackets only differentiated by the intensity of their pastel color schemes — one in pink and the other in a disturbingly intriguing robin’s egg blue.  Thankfully they were not together like some mannered Rock Store Hummel figurine bookends from out of the mind of a Jeff Koons. I digress.

Beige is the hardest working color in the universe. Beige not black, it was discovered a few years ago, is the predominant color of the universe. Orange/yellow is the color of our solar system as El Sol works tirelessly to illuminate and warm us. On our little orb and amongst human kind it is pink that never sleeps. Yup, pink. Pink is singularly declarative. Pink stands resolutely at the bar, eyes darting back and forth across the crowd to see who’s watching. Pink is endlessly judgmental in its need to control the impression. Pink works across class and income to monitor and maintain the borderland of gender. Pink.

The reason for this post is to expiate my soul on the one hand and on the other to reinforce the notion that women have the right to wear whatever they danged-heck-want-to when they ride. As long as that gear is designed with some sort of rated armor and out of a material that will not shred in the off chance that you do an aerial pas de deux with your fringed partner then I don’t really care.

Here’s the thing though: women will, many women will…some women will… sacrifice any modicum of common sense for the sake of annunciating and articulating their femininity. Don’t get me started about shoes and the cult of the shoe — that phenomenon goes well beyond your garden variety commodity fetishism. The need to assert one’s womanliness by compulsively wearing pink is a syndrome of a larger social malady and while I would like to lean forward into rant mode over my keyboard I will not or at least not too much. Should you have the time and the interest though I highly recommend a book by Barbara Ehrenreich called “Bright-sided” for among other things its insight into the way pink is used as a marketing tool in women’s health care.

Motorcycle riding has largely been a testosterone basted male bastion and there are too many women who feel the compulsive to need to state “Sure, I ride but I’m really a girl.” Motorcycle gear designers have come up with satchels full of pretty gear designed to calm that neuroses. Again, I say, if you like the pink then go ahead and wear it – do not let my personal aversion to the color and its implied cuteness dissuade you, you’re stronger than that. Go for the pink, you’re worth it. The point I want to make is that your gear should fit you properly and be designed for riding no matter what side of the gender corral from whence you have roped it in.

A friend of mine doesn’t like women’s riding jackets because the cut of the jacket gives her what she so eloquently describes as the uni-boob. I am not as well endowed as she but I am not too fond of the uni-boob look myself. I have preternaturally long arms and women’s riding gear never fits me right. I buy the men’s version of the jacket in a size smaller and I invariably have a better fit. There is also a wider selection in the men’s gear line. If you are riding up the PCH with a group at 60 miles an hour how important is it really that you show off your svelte hour glass figure? Maybe it is and in such case I want to make it absolutely clear that we are chockablock with jackets and pants and helmets that will fulfill your desires.  Please just make sure that no matter what you choose to cover your body when you ride that you opt for gear that is designed for use as motorcycle kit and that it has the proper safety armor.

This goes for you under clad scooter vixens too. You know who you are. Just because your wheels are smaller and you are closer to the ground doesn’t mean you do not need the protection from a get-off. I don’t care if your scooter is pink too. Please gear up.

Coming up in the very near future I will doing a shootout post between the hi-viz Firstgear  (men’s) Kilimanjaro jacket and the  hi-viz Scorpion (men’s) Commander 2 jacket. I have no idea which one will win but I like them both: they will both be subjected to the tyrannically rigorous dictates that are the hallmark of the Applethwaite family way but I have to say right off the top that, without laying my hands on them, the Scorpion jacket has the fashion points all over the Firstgear. Does that matter to me? Tune in.

A final Fran Lebowitz quote before I go.

“The conversational overachiever is someone whose grasp exceeds his reach. This is possible but not attractive.” On that note I think it best that I take my leave now.

Gerde Applethwaite